I Will Survive

Liza Patterson holds her daughter in her arms on the beach
After beating lymphoma, Liza Patterson struggled with her mental health and the transition back to being a mom.
"It gave me the feeling that I wasn't alone, that I was going through this and other people had gone through it too, which I wish they hadn't, but I'm glad that they're there for me and I'm there for them. So that was really important to find something, anything that could give me hope to continue my journey in life."
— Liza Patterson, lymphoma survivor


MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Cancer Chat graphic

Episode Details

June 2021

Run Time: 26:20 (Part 1), 18:26 (Part 2)

Topics: mental health, anxiety, depression, survivorship, mental health counseling

Although mental health is not often discussed as it relates to cancer, it is quite common for patients and survivors to struggle with their mental and emotional well-being during and after treatment. MUSC Hollings Cancer Center offers support resources to help patients navigate the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Narration (00:00): Coming up on this episode of Cancer Chat…

Dr. Wendy Balliet (00:03): Being a cancer survivor doesn't mean your journey with cancer has ended as many around you might assume so enduring what you have endured as a cancer survivor likely has changed you physically, mentally, and emotionally, and acknowledging these changes and addressing them are going to help you cope better with the difficult emotions and live life in a more meaningful and present-focused way.

Dawn Brazell (00:31): Welcome to Cancer Chat, MUSC Hollings Cancer Center’s podcast. I'm Dawn Brazell, communications director at Hollings. We'll be looking at some of the mental health struggles that cancer survivors face both during and after their treatment in today's episode. We'll also be exploring how those emotions are much more common than you might think. Today, we have Dr. Wendy Balliet a psychologist who practices psych oncology at Hollings and lymphoma survivor Liza Patterson, who received her cancer treatment at Hollings. Welcome to our podcast. So we all know cancer doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens as part of everyday life and often has a tremendous emotional impact. Dr. Balliet, I know you see a lot of this and hear this from your patients. What do you wish cancer patients knew about the potential mental health stresses that a diagnosis can create?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (01:26): I think it's pretty common knowledge or at least I hope it is at this point that when people are diagnosed with cancer, it's, it's really common and normal to experience anxiety and depression. But, but more than that, Dawn, like you said, cancer doesn't happen in a vacuum. So when you first receive that diagnosis for, for many of my patients, they describe it as, you know, their rug being pulled out from under them. Oftentimes it's completely unexpected and really shakes your world view. This, this world you were living in, felt safe. You had plans, many people have healthy families and jobs or are in school and are looking towards a bright future. And when, when a cancer diagnosis hits, all of that kind of gets put on pause and people are left needing to live with a whole lot of uncertainty. So while depression and anxiety are really common, it's also common for folks to struggle with other psychosocial concerns like fear of fear of death, fear of losing a job, your identity changes in your relationships.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (02:47): Both friendships, families with significant others as your body kind of changes while you go through a lot of the treatments that cancer patients have to go through. So it's, it's a whole long trajectory in a journey that never quite has a finish line. I guess I'd be interested to hear what Liza has to say about that. But I think once you're diagnosed with cancer and move through the treatment and enter into survivorship, it does continue. And many people continue to struggle kind of intermittently throughout their lives with a lot of the concerns I mentioned a minute ago.

Dawn Brazell (03:28): Liza, tell us what your cancer journey has been like. And if any of what Dr. Balliet said resonates with you?

Liza Patterson (03:35): Yeah, it absolutely does. So I began getting symptoms when I was probably 25 to 30 weeks pregnant with my daughter. And they were all symptoms that could be related to pregnancy. So nothing was really thought about that until I would say after my daughter was born, I was having, you know, intense chest pain. And I might, one day I woke up and my neck and my face were swollen. So my mom decided to take me to the ER and that was where they found the mass in my chest. And as Dr. Balliet said I had plans for my future. And it was like, immediately, I, I just said, what about my daughter? Like, what do I do? Because at that point, I didn't know it was cancer. I thought maybe I was going to die. And even if I knew it was cancer, I'd still think maybe I'm going to die. What do I do with my family? You know, I had, I had plans to raise my daughter to be with my husband, to be with my parents, my siblings. So I was shocked and I didn't, I didn't really know how to respond. I just, I was just I was stuck. I was really stuck.

Dawn Brazell (05:08): You know, I think there's so much focus on the physical part, particularly when you first get a diagnosis, you really don't have much time to think about the emotional part. I found that to be true.

Liza Patterson (05:18): Yes, yes. Yeah. I was ready to just like fight physically, I didn't think about how I was feeling. I just went, went forward.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (05:30): That makes, I was just going to jump in and say, that makes so much sense that when you're given a cancer diagnosis, you really go into fight or flight mode. And it sounds like for you guys, you really went into fight mode, do what you need to do to get healthy and be there for your daughter without much time to really spend on the emotional side. Absolutely.

Dawn Brazell (05:54): So, Dr. Balliet, when do you usually see cancer patients? Cause I know in the initial phase of the diagnosis they're generally overwhelmed.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (06:02): Yeah. I mean, I would say it really varies. We, we certainly see people throughout the spectrum of a cancer journey. So there, there are times when we may see people that have a recent diagnosis and need a little bit, or a lot of support as they adjust to the diagnosis and then they are kind of okay to, to move on in their, in their own, in their own way with some of the coping strategies we can teach. Other times depending on the patient's background and what other stressors might be happening at the same time, right, because the world doesn't stop. I think Liza's story really highlights that, you know, you want the world to stop so all you can do is focus on getting better, but you're a new mom, or you just had your first grandchild or there are other people in your family that are sick. And so depending on the individual coming in, you know, we, we really see people throughout the journey and sometimes they kind of take it, you know, it's okay to take a break from therapy. We encourage that. And when things like the pandemic hit, we tend to see an uptick in utilization of services, which is, which is great. We want to be able to help.

Dawn Brazell (07:22): So when a patient finds out they're cancer-free and in remission, that should be an exciting, exciting, and happy day, right? But that is not always the case with some survivors.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (07:34): So sometimes emotional wounds of cancer take longer to heal than physical wounds. So some of the most common challenges we see among cancer survivors include fear of recurrence, grief over the loss of one's pre-cancer life, what life was like before this diagnosis happened, and kind of your, your pre-cancer view of the world as a safe place. Like I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of body image disturbance that can happen because of the results of surgery and treatments. Social strain, so there may be strain in your relationship with family and friends because of having to lean on them for so long to get through, to get through the treatment. And I think another piece that gets that's at play when we're talking about relationships, relationships and survivorship is that once you ring that bell and you're declared cancer free, and I put that in quotes, your friends and family are like, yay, we're done right?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (08:47): But, but you're not, most people aren't as cancer survivors. You're not done, you know, there's that worry it might come back. There's some, you know, survivor guilt that I think we'll talk about in a minute, you know, why did I live when all these other people I know died. Guilt for where you couldn't be, you know, raising your daughter or being there to see your grandchild born. So ringing that bell, it's a, it's a celebratory day and there's still a lot of angst that many, if not most cancer patients experience to some degree.

Dawn Brazell (09:31): Liza, have you found that to be true?

Liza Patterson (09:36): Yes, absolutely. I think that when I was declared in remission was when my mental health challenges really began. I, I, I found the fear of recurrence was really strong. I basically, any tiny little symptom I would have blew up and I was like, oh my gosh, I need a scan. I need blood work. I need something. I need to know that I, that I'm okay. Because I was in fight or flight mode and I was immediately taken out of that. So I just had to focus on the emotional parts. And I really, I had to focus on being a mom again, and I wasn't ready for that. I, I didn't get the transition. I just was cut off from it. You know, I, I had little glimpses here and there when I was home and able to help my husband or help the nanny take care of her, but I, I didn't have like the steps that most moms get to learning about their child and how to take care of her.

Liza Patterson (10:49): So yeah, the, the, the emotional part really began for me when I was declared in remission. My, my biggest issue would have been the struggles with the thoughts about death. I had faced my fate at a very young age. I was 29 when I was diagnosed and began treatment. And I realized that, you know, we will die at some point and I might die sooner. And that was so scary. I didn't know what I was going to leave my family with. I had to search for resources to make me accept my fate and give me hope about, you know, if, if I wouldn't make it, what would happen to me and in the afterlife what would happen with my family. So I was just on a real search.

Dawn Brazell (11:53): Was that surprising to you? Did you think when this was over you, that it would just be over or were you really surprised?

Liza Patterson (11:58): Oh, yes, I was so surprised. I was extremely surprised. Everybody asked me when I rang the bell, they were like, aren't you so excited? And I was like, that might've been the worst day of my life to be honest. Because I was done, I didn't have people taking care of me and fixing me anymore. I had to fix me and I didn't know how. So yeah, it was, I was very surprised that that was how I felt. That was not what I was expecting. And it was a real disappointment. It was, yeah, it was a big let down.

Narration (12:29): In the second half of this episode, Dr. Balliet explains the science behind depression and anxiety after surviving cancer, and Liza takes us back to the beginnings of her cancer journey.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (12:40): Patients go from having a medical support system and medical family. You know, you've got your favorite infusion nurse. You've got your, you know, the CMA that you talk to every day and kind of this built in social network that once you move to surveillance, no longer is, is there.

Narration (13:00): Now back to the chat.

Dawn Brazell (13:02): So Dr. Balliet how normal is this? Is what Liza describing common?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (13:08): It is incredibly common, much more common than we talk about as a society unfortunately, because I think the more we talk about it, the more we can, we can help people like Liza prepare and get through it. Some, some of the studies I've, I've looked at site up to 20% of cancer survivors experienced some level of anxiety and depression with even more than that kind of meeting subclinical levels of depression and anxiety. And we know people tend to under-report when we're talking about depression and anxiety in general. So I wouldn't be surprised if we're, we're looking at, you know, half of the population of cancer survivors, really struggling with some of the things Lisa has described. And I think, you know, the, the crux of it is when you're in treatment, you're in that kind of problem focused coping. So you're getting surgery, you're getting radiation, you're getting chemotherapy, you're doing something to win this fight to eradicate the cancer. And so it gives people some semblance of control, even if it's not actual control, because we're not sure kind of what's going to happen in terms of the outcome. But it gives you that sense that you're doing something to beat the cancer. And then when that's done, you're left with that emotional piece of it. And I think that's what Liza really described pretty beautifully there.

Dawn Brazell (14:50): She really did. Liza, did you feel a loss of control when the treatment ended?

Liza Patterson (14:56): Yes. I definitely felt a loss of control. I felt like I had to all of a sudden learn how to take care of me when I hadn't been taking care of me. I mean, I had been doing all of the things I was told to do to take care of me, and now I had to learn how to do it on my own. So I looked for resources such as books, podcasts, shows that taught me some self-help some self-care. I started exercising, well, that came quite a bit down the road because I was still extremely fatigued, but I, once I was really ready to start over again, I began exercising. I reached out to other survivors. I had other survivors reach out to me, which I, because I would put myself out there on social media. And through my husband's social media, people would find me and they were struggling too. So I was able to talk to them. And there aren't a lot of people my age in my situation that have gone through the same experience, but there are a few and they're looking for you too. So it was nice to find them when I was ready, because it took some time also to be ready, to reach out to people and have people reach out to me and really talk about what I dealt with and what I was going through emotionally.

Dawn Brazell (16:34): You know, that's interesting that you bring up timing. I think timing is everything. And the other thing I find interesting is it's not always family members that you might need support from. Can both of you sort of address that, why other survivors are so important?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (16:50): When you enter survivorship, I think maybe Liza can speak more personally to this, but patients go from having a medical support system and medical family, you know, you've got your favorite infusion nurse, you've got your, you know, the CMA that you talk to every day and kind of this built-in social network that once you move to surveillance no longer is, is there. And, and these people, even though they don't have cancer, or that we know of, or are going through treatment, they understand what you go through as a, as a cancer patient. And so reaching out and, and meeting other people through support groups with, with other, other people who've had similar experiences really helps I think, in reducing that sense of isolation and increasing the sense of hope, you know, that you can, you can get through this, that you're not alone and that what you're experiencing is normal and ok.

Dawn Brazell (17:54): Liza, I mean, how does that sound to you? I know the fatigue, there's just so many issues that cancer patients really just need each other to talk to.

Liza Patterson (18:02): Yeah, it's, she hit that nail on the head. The part that really resonated with me was the instilling hope. I, my family was a great support. They were amazing, but they didn't have cancer. They didn't know what the loss of hope felt like. They had hope pretty much the entire time that things would be fine. And I had hoped throughout the treatment, but afterwards was when I lost hope, a hope and a future, hoping that things could be, feel like that I could feel like me again and finding other survivors gave me hope. And it gave me the feeling that I wasn't alone, that I was going through this and other people had gone through it too, which I wish they hadn't, but I'm glad that they're there for me and I'm there for them. So that was really important to find something, anything that could give me hope to continue my journey in life.

Dawn Brazell (19:01): So Liza how old are you now?

Liza Patterson (19:04): I'm 31 now.

Dawn Brazell (19:06): And you were diagnosed at 29, is that right? That's correct. Okay. Can you take us back to then when you were 29, what was going on? Did you know about lymphoma? Just talk us through that, create the scene for us.

Liza Patterson (19:21): I had no idea what lymphoma was. They brought that word out and I was like, what is that? And they said cancer. And I was like, I didn't even know that was cancer. So yeah, when I was initially diagnosed, they did not have the answer that it was lymphoma, that took about a week. I had to get a biopsy. And when they finally told me it was lymphoma, highly treatable, even curable, I was almost relieved. I was, I was like, oh, okay, so I just have to fight and I'm good. I have cancer, but it's curable, so let's go. You know, so it was probably good that I was so young and, you know, ready to, to fight for my future, for my daughter's future, for my relationship, for my family. So I think that that was the benefit of being so young when I was diagnosed.

Liza Patterson (20:17): But I learned a lot about lymphoma since then, and I, you know, I've done some fundraisers. I've done the light the night for the leukemia lymphoma society. I, I've done a lot of research about my type of lymphoma, about other blood cancers in particular, also some breast cancer, just to know what I've had family members, friends, things that have, you know, people that have experienced that. That's what a lot of the women my age have gone through is breast cancer. So I've really familiarized myself with, with cancer. And now I'm kind of an expert.

Dawn Brazell (21:02): Did you find that helped, that process helped you? Reading, researching?

Liza Patterson (21:08): Well, yes and no. I shouldn't have researched while I was in treatment. It probably would've been helpful to do it more so after. But knowing now I do feel that it's been helpful, yes, to know about just every little detail I like to know.

Dawn Brazell (21:28): Now, tell me about the personal side though. New mom, what was going on in your personal life?

Liza Patterson (21:31): So in my personal life, yes, I had a five week old daughter. My, my only child and I had to, I had to leave her with my husband, with my mother, anybody that was able to come take care of her. We eventually found a really amazing nanny for the weekdays and then another one for the weekends, because I was, I was checked out. I couldn't function as a mother. The cancer really took over, the treatment was pretty grueling. I went inpatient. I was inpatient every 21 days for five to six days at a time on a four-day, 24 hour drip of a mix of chemos. So I was very sick. I would get about a week, maybe a week in between treatments. I did six treatments. I would get maybe a week in between, between treatments where I felt like I could go out to dinner with my family, or maybe a short walk, but that was really pushing it.

Liza Patterson (22:41): So that was a huge struggle. I didn't know how to bond with my daughter anymore because I had to stop breastfeeding immediately. At, when she was about six weeks, I had to stop breastfeeding, which luckily she took right onto the bottle. So she didn't, she didn't care. She was fine with that. It was just strange. I didn't know how to be a mom. And that was really hard for me getting back into it. Once I was declared in remission, learning how to become a mom, knowing what her different cries meant, what she liked to eat, what she liked to play with. That was, that was really sad for me.

Dawn Brazell (23:32): I can't even imagine just the roller coaster of hormones you have as a new mom, right? Dr. Balliet, you know, these emotions sound like a lot to handle on someone's own. Why is it important for survivors to seek help when needed? Liza seems like quite the extrovert, but I know other patients, you know, they're maybe not as proactive, I'll put it that way.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (23:55): Yeah. I think seeking help when you're feeling that down or anxious is, is crucial because it doesn't go away. So, so many times, you know, I, I have, I have patients tell me, well, you know, I, the way I grew up was pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Like you don't talk about your feelings. You don't, you know, just suck it up, buttercup kind of thing. And that doesn't eliminate the difficult emotions. Those are still there. Sometimes they come out in different ways. You know, we, we've all probably been guilty at snapping at our, the people we love the most because we're angry at someone else. And when we're talking about cancer and cancer survivors, not managing their emotions or getting help when it is becoming overwhelming, unfortunately we see people stopping taking care of themselves, whether that means they're no longer going to their surveillance appointments, they go back to maybe old habits like drinking or smoking or drugging or eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's every night.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (25:14): So some of those health behaviors that really can cause other physical problems down the road. So getting help, learning how to talk through these emotions is, is really crucial in living a meaningful and purposeful life. One of the things I always say, or I often say to patients is the only way out is through. I think we've all probably heard that saying. I think this is a great example where it really resonates as true. You can't hide your feelings under a rock and expect it to stay there forever. So learning how to express them, leaning on other people to help you hold them really goes a long way.

Narration (26:00): Thank you for listening to this episode of Cancer Chat. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and visit us online at www.hollingscancercenter.musc.edu. And remember, here at the Hollings Cancer Center, we're finding tomorrow's cure for cancer today.

Narration (00:01): Coming up on part two of this series, that conversation with Liza Patterson and Dr. Wendy Balliet transitions to post-cancer PTSD and what tools and resources are available for patients.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (00:13): Know there's a reason we often talk to patients about, you know, having a lot of tools in your tool box because depending on what you're going through at any given moment, you may pull out a wrench or you may pull out a hammer. So I think having a lot of strategies to help manage mood and stress anxiety is, is critical.

Narration (00:36): Now back to the chat.

Dawn Brazell (00:38): And now Liza, I think you sought out a trauma expert. Why did you choose to do that?

Liza Patterson (00:46): Yeah, so my mom was a therapist also and she explained to me that the symptoms that I was having were of PTSD, and we decided to look for somebody who specialized in post-traumatic stress disorder not necessarily related to cancer because that's also difficult to find. But I found a woman who was working with trauma and I found it very helpful. She taught me how to speak to my trauma and my fear and how to use my rational thoughts versus my irrational thoughts. And explain to my irrational thoughts what the rational ones actually were and what the actual outcome could be of a situation, which usually wasn't as negative or scary as I made it such as my biggest fear was riding in a car or driving a car really mainly riding in one, because I didn't have control that I could just, you know, be hit and killed in an instant, which is a fact that is, that can happen. But the likelihood of it happening anytime I get in my car is very low and she would talk me through that and tell me how to talk to my fear. That was very helpful for reducing the fears and allowing me to actually function in everyday life and ride in cars and walk down the street on a sidewalk next to a road. So that was, yeah, she, she did a really good job with teaching me coping mechanisms.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (02:38): I'm just curious, did you have those fears before your cancer diagnosis?

Liza Patterson (02:42): No, I was actually pretty reckless as a person before my cancer diagnosis. I drove like a, like a speed demon. I would get on airplanes. I didn't care. I did a lot of things that, that were probably considered reckless. And I never thought twice about it. And after my treatment and being declared in remission, I was really afraid of anything that could possibly result in harm or death.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (03:18): Yeah. Just thinking that, you know, cancer being diagnosed with cancer and going through the cancer journey really is a trauma. I mean, it shakes your belief in a just world, your belief that you're safe. And I can see how that then translates to other aspects of your, of your life, you know, riding in a car or walking on a sidewalk.

Liza Patterson (03:41): Yes. I felt very unsafe in everyday life because my diagnosis came out of nowhere. Why couldn't something else come out of nowhere.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (03:51): Yeah. And we, we do know that especially young adults and adolescents, especially report up to 50% of these populations do report post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Dawn Brazell (04:07): Wow. That's amazing. I don't think most people know that. Why do people not talk about this more?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (04:13): I think unfortunately there's a huge stigma that still exists when it comes to mental health and people with, if you think about kind of society as a whole, we want to appear happy and joyful and talking about the uncomfortable emotions make other people uncomfortable.

Dawn Brazell (04:43): So, Liza, I just want to say thank you because I know this is a really hard topic to talk about, and it's great that you're opening up. Why have you chosen to be so open about your struggles and feelings of guilt and, and share that with others?

Liza Patterson (04:57): I think it's really important for others to know that they're not alone and to feel like somebody that was seemingly young and healthy, also struggles from these things and to be able to reach out when they need help, because if you don't get help, you, you're never going to live your life to its fullest potential. And that's, we only have one life to live, and it's really important to live it the way you need to and want to. And it's just mental health is not something anybody should be ashamed of. It's how we are able to enjoy our life when we have good mental health. I, I just, I think that it's not talked about enough and I, I want it to be talked about all the time.

Dawn Brazell (05:49): I agree. You know, Dr. Balliet, do you see us making progress in this field? I mean, what do you see for the future as far as maybe helping cancer patients be better prepared for the emotional journey, the psychological journey they're about to embark on?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (06:03): Yeah. I was talking a little bit with Liza before we went on about, about this. And I think in an odd way, the pandemic maybe has shifted how people are thinking about mental health. There's been a lot in the, in the media, around the importance of reaching out for help. There's been a lot of coverage with you know, young children, adolescents and suicide, and during the, this last year. And so I hope we can kind of extrapolate from that to chronic health problems, like a cancer diagnosis and allow people to feel comfortable reaching out when, when they need help. I mean, think about it, right. If I were to break my arm, I'm not going to tell myself, well, just don't think about it. Like, it'll get it'll heal on its own. You'll be, you'll be fine. I'm going to probably go to an ER and get it. X-Rayed have an assessment, have a treatment plan work on healing. It, I don't know how different mental health is.

Dawn Brazell (07:11): There are a lot of tools out there. Just to do a little deeper dive into the tools. I know there's therapy, but obviously there's other tools, there's resources online. You mentioned tele-health what are some tools that you'd recommend?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (07:26): Know there's a reason we often talk to patients about, you know, having a lot of tools in your tool box because depending on what you're, you're going through at any given moment, you may pull out a wrench or you may pull out a hammer. So I think having a lot of strategies to help manage mood and stress anxiety is, is critical. So obviously I usually start with basics. So making sure you're getting enough sleep that you're eating a healthy diet, moving your body making sure that you're not imbibing too much on alcohol sweets, things like that. Other other strategies would include definitely exercising, you know, getting some cardiovascular work. If, if you're able to really can, can make a difference in kind of producing those natural endorphins and feel good hormones getting some vitamin D you know, we've been looking for this sun and it's finally here and you see everybody outside and they're out there for a reason.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (08:37): Right. So kind of keeping that in mind too, and, and really being kind to yourself. So taking some time to write down your thoughts. I think, I think Liza did a great job kind of explaining rational and irrational thinking. Sometimes if you take 30 minutes and journal what your thoughts are and what you're feeling, you might be able to take a different perspective and you might be able to look at those thoughts and feelings in a, in a different way. So journaling is often one thing I'll recommend as well as practicing gratitude. And I want to be really clear that practicing gratitude doesn't mean that life isn't still hard. You can have both, you know, life can be hard and you can be grateful. So taking some time to each day to kind of pick out a few things that you're, that you're grateful for.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (09:37): And I'm you know, I'm a convert when it comes to meditation. I used to always recommend this and I'll be honest. I never actually did it until about a year or so ago. And it really, I mean, it's a game changer. So if you're able to have any kind of guided meditation apps, like calm or insight timer I can't think of some other ones off the top of my head. But that's really powerful to just take 10 minutes to yourself, listening to a guided meditation and kind of recharging your batteries so you can face whatever the rest of the day is going to throw your way.

Dawn Brazell (10:17): So Liza, any of these tools in your toolbox?

Liza Patterson (10:21): Oh, absolutely. I use exercise almost daily to calm myself and to put myself in the right state of mind and to get that rush of endorphins. I also, I, you know, I've tried meditation. I need to get back into it because when I was doing it often, it worked very well. And it was, it was especially when I was dealing with the extreme trauma and irrational thoughts. I use meditation a lot. So, yeah. So I would say a lot of those tools and being grateful thinking about the things in my day that I'm grateful for, even if they're small things, like my daughter ate her lunch. Yay. So grateful for that. I'm grateful for my home for my family. Even when I'm having, like, especially when I'm having a bad day, I like to think about the things in that day that I was still grateful for. So yeah.

Dawn Brazell (11:28): Yeah. Sometimes it's the small things they do work. And I do every cancer patient's journey obviously is unique. For you though, Liza, do you feel like you'll ever be able to move on from your cancer diagnosis? I mean, where do you go from here?

Liza Patterson (11:42): So biggest struggle since being diagnosed would definitely with guilt and feeling like I wasn't there for the people that needed me when they needed me the most, my daughter and my husband. Since then, I've really worked on that, turning that into compassion and being able to be there for other people, for everybody in anybody. When I'm, when I'm able to and taking the time that I have in this moment, now that I'm healthy to be compassionate, to move forward to let go of that guilt. And to be honest, I don't know if I'll ever move on from my journey. I think I'm always learning from it. I'm always learning something new about an experience that I had in the past and why I dealt with it the way that I did and how to change the way that I deal with experiences in the future, or just improve the way that I deal with experiences. So I don't think I'll ever move on, but I don't really want to, I want to use it for good. I want to have had this experience for a reason and I want to do something with it, for that will benefit others and myself in a positive way.

Dawn Brazell (13:04): What a nice way to frame it Liza. Dr. Balliet, do you find this as a common reaction, as far as finding meaning from the journey?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (13:13): Yeah, there's a whole breadth of literature on what's called post-traumatic growth. So when your, your life kind of shifts after a trauma and it's never going to be the same. I mean, you're not gonna be the same person you were before cancer and you, you can still do things that are meaningful and purposeful that align maybe differently with your values, then it, it, it did before your cancer diagnosis. And that's exactly what Liza is kind of describing is this wealth of what we would call post-traumatic growth from a really difficult experience. You never wish it on anyone. So to be clear, kind of not, well good. Now you have this outlook since you've been through cancer, nobody wants to get cancer. And there's still a way to come out on the other, the other side with maybe a more meaningful life than you would have otherwise.

Dawn Brazell (14:17): Either of you would like to share something you'd really like the lay public to know?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (14:25): I think for me as a psychologist, I've said this a lot over the last year, especially, but be kind to yourself, being a cancer survivor doesn't mean your journey with cancer has ended as many around you might, might assume. So enduring what you have endured as a cancer survivor likely has changed you physically, mentally, and emotionally, and these changes and addressing them are going to help you cope better with difficult emotions and live life in a more meaningful and present focused way. So be kind to yourself, talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.

Liza Patterson (15:08): I really liked that being kind to yourself. And I would also say you need to advocate for yourself, always if you're struggling, reach out, tell somebody somebody else can help you get the help. And if, if you still feel like everything you've been trying to do, isn't helping try something else. Something will help. Eventually I tried so many things and I thought none of them were helping nothing's gonna help, but I got better. And it was just through trying everything. And eventually I found that really what helped was trying everything.

Dawn Brazell (15:45): Right. And keep trying.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (15:48): It means lights to therapists too. So if you are able to get in and see a therapist, you know, my belief is the relationship, the rapport between a patient, a therapist is what makes or breaks the treatment. So it's okay to switch therapists too. You know, as you say, Liza, try everything. It's okay if you give it a few weeks and it's not a good fit to, to ask for another referral, we are used to that our feelings will not be hurt. I think 99.9% or 100% of us want people to get better, whatever that takes.

Dawn Brazell (16:26): One other thing I wanted to touch on Dr. Balliet, what psychological resources are available to our patients here at Hollings?

Dr. Wendy Balliet (16:32): So there's a variety of resources available. We have a psycho-oncology group at, at Hollings Cancer Center, that's comprised of several licensed clinical psychologist and interns and residents. So there are a lot of opportunities for individuals treatment couples therapy, family therapy. Sometimes we'll meet with, you know, young adolescents, if their parents or grandparents are going through cancer to help them learn how to cope with such a big, such a big change. So there, there really are some resources out there. So if people are struggling, please talk to your primary oncologist and say you'd like to see a behavioral medicine or psychologist at Hollings, and they should be able to make that happen.

Dawn Brazell (17:28): I just want to thank you both again for sharing this. I know it's an invaluable information for a lot of people. Yeah. Thank you for the opportunity. Thanks so much for having me.

Dr. Wendy Balliet (17:37): And thank you, Liza, for sharing your story. This is just amazing. And I think it will touch and reach a lot of people and normalize what other people are going through. So they don't feel so alone, you know, giving, giving others hope.

Liza Patterson (17:54): Yeah. I just, I just hope that sharing can find somebody that was looking for this and said, oh, I really, I really needed to hear this. So thank you.

Narration (18:04): Thank you for listening to this episode of Cancer Chat. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and visit us online at www.hollingscancercenter.musc.edu. And remember here at the Hollings Cancer Center, we're finding tomorrow's cure for cancer today.


Episode Guests

Wendy Balliet 

Wendy Balliet, Ph.D.

Hollings psychologist

Liza Patterson 

Liza Patterson

Lymphoma survivor
Hollings patient